My colleague Jessica Smith recently wrote an article setting out necessary considerations in relation to international relocation with your child. Following on from that, it is also important to specifically consider the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic upon any arrangements. Although no one has been able to avoid it over the unprecedented past year, it is important to be aware that the pandemic will be a relevant consideration for the courts when deciding issues of international relocation or specific issues concerning children and international travel.
As we move out of lockdown, it is likely that these issues will become even more relevant and should be considered at the outset, prior to any application to court being made.
Considerations for international relocation
The past year has been incredibly difficult for everyone and many people have considered adjustments to their lives, including their living arrangements. Some parents may find that their priorities have changed, for example if their relationship has broken down, they may no longer have a reason to stay in the UK. They may wish to return to their home country, or the location of their family, with their child. Some people may also wish to move for health reasons, for example escape a pandemic hotspot, or for economic reasons such as cheaper living costs and flexibility related to home working.
As stated in Jessica’s article, there are a number of considerations for the court when deciding upon a dispute in relation to international relocation. In addition to the points which must always be considered if the other parent does not agree to your move overseas, you should be sure to think about the following ‘pandemic points’:
It is possible to make an application for leave to remove now if necessary. The Family Courts have continued to process and hear applications throughout the past year, often by video or by telephone. Decisions can be made at this time, despite the restrictions which remain in place.
You should, however, consider whether the best time to make a court application is now, or whether it would be preferable to see how the situation changes as we move out of lockdown and additional countries are added to the ‘green list’ for travel. It may be that, as the restrictions ease, ease of travel may assist in finding an agreement with the other parent and obtaining consent to the move and this could avoid stress and cost that the lengthy court process would cause for you both. If the practical details of the move are uncertain because of the uncertainties around travel, this may weaken an otherwise strong application.
As the pandemic is by definition worldwide, the parent wishing to move with their child should consider the location that they are moving to in light of the restrictions currently in place, for example, which level of the ’traffic light’ system the country is currently in, he restrictions in the destination country, the level of coronavirus cases in the country and how their vaccination program is progressing. These points will be relevant both for the wellbeing of the child and for the practical arrangements for contact with the other parent.
It will be important to the court to see that you have researched your chosen location and that you are aware of the situation regarding Covid-19 in the specific area. If there are any worries associated with the country in question, for example higher numbers of cases or extremely strict lockdown conditions, you will need to be able to explain to the court how this will be dealt with and how your child will be protected and thrive in their new environment. Given that the pandemic is expected to end, eventually, this may not be fatal to a successful application but it may delay the timing of any approved relocation.
It is also necessary to consider that potential cost of travel, could increase drastically as the UK emerges from lockdown. There are likely to be higher airline costs due to the prolonged period without international travel and less capacity on aircrafts, due to attempts at social distancing, moving forwards. There may also be additional documentation or testing that may be required, depending upon the country, involving added expense.
You will need to show that you can pay any additional healthcare costs for your child, if, for example, the country in question does not have a free healthcare system in place.
It may be an expensive exercise to ensure that your child can return to the other parent during holidays and a full budget should be prepared to inform the court (and to show that you have considered all potential costs!) This will evidence your preparedness and illustrate your genuine desire to plan for a new life in your country of choice.
Reasons for the move
When setting out your reasons for the move to the court, it is always important to explain where specifically you wish to move to and why. Why is it important that you move now? Why would it be best for your child to move now, rather than, for example, in a years’ time when the pandemic may be fully under control and travel to see the left behind parent would be easier? Does the desire to move appear to arise from a knee jerk reaction to your current pandemic circumstances or a fully considered long term plan? Have you considered how your child will be educated whilst the pandemic continues? Will they be able to engage in social activities to help them aclimatise in the destination country? These are all questions that should be answered in your mind before an application is made to the court.
It is important for you to consider your genuine reasons for wishing to move and express these honestly and frankly to the court.
The other parent
It is now more necessary than ever to consider the distance between the children and their other parent and how this can be practically overcome. Prior to the pandemic, it would have been far easier to make arguments about living in a ‘global world’. As stated above, it is likely to be more expensive for your child to return to the UK in order to see their other parent. You should consider whether this cost is viable for the other parent and, if not, whether costs could be divided between you, or met by you, in order to ensure that contact can take place.
There may also be issues with restrictions and quarantine rules, either in the UK or in the country that the child is living in, which could limit the other parent’s time with their child. This should be considered when putting forward a workable plan for contact, for example allowing a longer stay with the non-resident parent or potentially allowing the non-resident parent to travel to your new home instead.
It will therefore also be relevant to consider whether the child is of an age where they can effectively use technology for video calls. A very young child may suffer more substantially as a result of missing out on direct contact with the absent parent, whereas an older child may find it easier to keep in touch via video call. A full proposal for indirect contact (such as calls and texts) should be put forward in any event.
With restrictions changing rapidly and the news regarding new variants of Covid-19 emerging, it may be that countries once again shut their borders. You should consider what your plan would be if this were to happen and your practical solutions for the other parents’ time with the child, in detail.
Considerations for international travel and holidays with children
There are also necessary considerations for parents who wish to travel abroad with their child, for example for a holiday, or to visit their child who is living abroad. Most countries remain on the amber list, where numerous requirements are in place, including testing and quarantine periods upon return.
Firstly, it is vitally important to discuss with the other parent and see if you can agree the arrangements without the need to refer the matter to the courts. Both parents should try to be flexible given the potential difficulties involved with international travel at this time.
As with international relocation, you should consider the location proposed to ensure that it is practical and sensible in terms of the Covid-19 restrictions. You should ensure that any arrangements take into account any potential risk to your child, for example higher numbers of cases or poor health facilities. You should also be prepared to show the court a detailed plan for your holiday to prove that you have considered the practicalities in detail.
It will also be necessary to consider whether your child would need to quarantine upon their return to the UK. You should think about school term dates, as quarantine periods could mean that your child misses their return to school.
In addition, you should be alive to the potential impact of your travel plans upon the other parent. If you and your child are forced to quarantine upon your return, this could impact upon arrangements for contact. Whether this is the case is likely to depend upon your personal situation, as the regulations do not require a person to quarantine from a member of their own household and, under shared care arrangements, a child can be part of the households of both parents. It will also be necessary to consider whether you have an agreement between yourselves or a court order in relation to child arrangements. It will be important to take specialist family law advice regarding your specific situation, especially if you are concerned about adhering to the competing provisions of the Covid-19 quarantine and a court order in relation to child contact arrangements. Understanding your specific situation will be vital in ensuring that the correct outcome is achieved.
If you wish to discuss the issues above, please do not hesitate to contact Rayden Solicitors.